May 10, 2009

Spice Blends

"Variety is the spice of life" is a common expression. Yet in American cuisine, spices are not really the spice of food. If you poke around the spice cabinet of a typical American kitchen, you'll find salt, pepper, and a few dried herbs. Mrs. Dash® might be the only spice blend you come across.

It is odd that spices are not a big part of the American food culture, but we pretty much stop at salt and pepper. Other cuisines have a very rich spice blend culture.

At the Evolution Kitchen, we keep a couple of our favorites on hand to put into dishes and to sprinkle on otherwise boring eggs. Here I present just a couple of them.

Garam Masala

This spice blend is very common in Indian cooking. Sure, you could buy it, but making our own is both economical and fun. All you need are the raw ingredients and a spice grinder. For the latter, we simply use a spare coffee grinder for such tasks.

If you can't find cardamom pods, you can get them here: Cardamom-Green Fancy Pods 2.0z By Zamouri Spices

The secret is to roast your seeds, which brings out their full flavor. Here is what garam masala looks like when in the dry roast phase:

This recipe makes about 8 tablespoons.


5 green cardamom pods
3 T coriander seeds
2 T cumin seeds
5 cloves
½ T black pepper corns
2 bay leaves
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground mace


1. Gently warm a dry, heavy pan.

2. Crush the cardamom pods slightly. Place all the ingredients except the cinnamon and mace in the skillet. Roast slowly, stirring often, until seeds begin to smoke slightly.

3. Remove the seeds from the heat and cool a little. Remove the little black seeds from the cardamom pods. Discard the green hulls. Put all the seeds and bay leaves into a grinder and grind to a fine powder. Add the cinnamon and mace and grind a little more to mix it up.

4. Cool completely before storing.


Zatar is a Middle Eastern spice blend typically used on meat, vegetables, and bread. It is commonly present on the mezze table: Tear off a hunk of bread, dip it in olive oil, then dab in a bowl of zatar. It has an earthy, tangy taste that is hard to describe, and completely foreign to the SAD.

We use this spice for other things as well. It is fabulous on hard-boiled eggs. We also use it sometimes in our broth when we cook soy wadi.

The secret ingredient is ground sumac, a beautiful red spice made from sumac berries. You can usually find it in Middle Eastern groceries. Amazon also sells it: SUMAC, GROUND, 1.125 lb. jars.

This recipe makes about 4 tablespoons.


2 T sesame seeds
2 T dried thyme
½ t salt
1 t ground sumac


1. Gently warm a dry, heavy pan.

2. Add the sesame seeds and stir constantly until they start to change color. Remove from heat immediately and pour into a bowl.

3. In a spice grinder, grind the thyme leaves into a coarse powder. Add the sesame seeds and salt, and grind to a powder. Add the sumac and briefly mix.

Ras el hanout

Ras el hanout is a popular spice and herb blend from North Africa and the Middle East. It has a dizzying array of stuff in it, which makes for a very deep flavor used to season meat and egg dishes, as well as desserts.


1 t ground cumin
1 t ground ginger
1 t turmeric
1 t salt
3/4 t ground cinnamon
3/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t ground white pepper
1/2 t ground coriander seeds
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves


1. In a bowl, blend all the ingredients together. Store in an airtight container.

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